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Collegiate Republic

Collegiate Republic: Cultivating an Ideal Society in Early America

Margaret Sumner
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Collegiate Republic
    Book Description:

    Collegiate Republicoffers a compellingly different view of the first generation of college communities founded after the American Revolution. Such histories have usually taken the form of the institutional tale, charting the growth of a single institution and the male minds within it. Focusing on the published and private writings of the families who founded and ran new colleges in antebellum America--including Bowdoin College, Washington College (later Washington and Lee), and Franklin College in Georgia--Margaret Sumner argues that these institutions not only trained white male elites for professions and leadership positions but also were part of a wider interregional network of social laboratories for the new nation. Colleges, and the educational enterprise flourishing around them, provided crucial cultural construction sites where early Americans explored organizing elements of gender, race, and class as they attempted to shape a model society and citizenry fit for a new republic.

    Within this experimental world, a diverse group of inhabitants--men and women, white and "colored," free and unfree--debated, defined, and promoted social and intellectual standards that were adopted by many living in an expanding nation in need of organizing principles. Priding themselves on the enlightened and purified state of their small communities, the leaders of this world regularly promoted their own minds, behaviors, and communities as authoritative templates for national emulation. Tracking these key figures as they circulate through college structures, professorial parlors, female academies, Liberian settlements, legislative halls, and main streets, achieving some of their cultural goals and failing at many others, Sumner's book shows formative American educational principles in action, tracing the interplay between the construction and dissemination of early national knowledge and the creation of cultural standards and social conventions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3568-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    WRITING A ROMANTIC NOVEL about a scholar on a journey, a young Henry Longfellow once asked this question of his readers: “Where should the scholar live? In solitude or society?” Where would the scholar be the most productive—and the most effective? Longfellow himself was on a journey when he wroteHyperionin 1839. He had left Brunswick, Maine, where he had spent his formative years as both a student and a professor at Bowdoin College, had studied in Europe, and had then taken up a more lucrative teaching position at Harvard. For the rest of his life, this student...

  5. One Cultivating the College World “The Generous Purpose”
    (pp. 15-46)

    IN 1805 GEORGE BAXTER rode out of his mountain town of Lexington, Virginia, on a borrowed horse. Newly elected to the presidency of the “college at Lexington,” the young Presbyterian minister intended to solicit funding for its future success. The cities of the eastern seaboard were to be the prime coordinates on his “begging” tour. As a graduate of another new college, Hampden-Sydney, as a minister, and as a former academy principal, Baxter was no stranger to the advocacy of religion and education. In the past, he had found that the two traditional pillars of post-Revolutionary society—virtue and knowledge...

  6. Two Organizing the College World “All Various Nature”
    (pp. 47-82)

    ON A WINTER’S DAY in 1808 Martha Cleaveland sat by the fire in her parlor near Bowdoin College and answered a letter from her brother John. Ensconced in her new home in the eastern territory of Maine, Martha was a determined collector of what her sister in Boston jokingly called “all the proceedings of the western World.” Her correspondents ranged from families in port cities to country villages throughout New England, and her contacts were always glad to hear news about how her family—and the family business at Brunswick—was faring.¹

    Two years earlier, this merchant’s daughter had taken...

  7. Three Building the College World “An Elegant Sufficiency”
    (pp. 83-116)

    JOHN AND MARIANNA WADDEL were seven-year-old twins when their father Moses, an academy teacher and Presbyterian minister, accepted the post of president of Franklin College in Athens, Georgia. In 1819, the whole family left their home in South Carolina and rode west to help expand the college world. John recalled their first impression of Athens, and it was not positive: “a straggling little hamlet stretching along the public highway, with no prospect of revival or enlargement.” Their primary “object of interest” was their new home, a “huge pile of brick and mortar” called Franklin College.¹

    Franklin College was an early...

  8. Four Working in the College World “Ease and Alternate Labor”
    (pp. 117-155)

    BY THE LATE 1830s, Louisa Payson was a busy young woman, her life full of the reading, writing, debating, and teaching that characterized the work of the growing college world. Her father, Edward Payson, had been a famous revivalist preacher in Portland, Maine. As a trustee of Bowdoin College, he had assisted in its early promotion and trained many of its graduates in divinity. He had also trained his eldest daughter in the classical languages and subjects of the college world. By the age of sixteen, after her father’s sudden death, Louisa had published a popular novel,The Pastor’s Daughter,...

  9. Five Leaving the College World “Gentle Spirits Fly”
    (pp. 156-194)

    WHEN A YOUNG MAN with dark skin graduated from Bowdoin College in 1826, the event was a “perfect novelty.” Newspapers and periodicals reported on it widely. A Portland, Maine, newspaper described the young student’s commencement piece, “The Conditions and Prospects of Hayti,” as “happily selected,” an appropriate topic for a “person of African descent.” Showing him their “favor” by “hearty applause,” the commencement audience evidently approved of his oration too. This model of “African eloquence” graduated “with the kindest wishes of his Tutors and Classmates for his future happiness.” For his postgraduate plans, John Russwurm, Bowdoin’s first “colored graduate,” intended...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 195-202)

    BY THE 1840s, a series of “wild-goose-chase” projects, as one student called them, began to plague the college world and its inhabitants. They threatened to distract the minds of the colleges’ refined, elevated beings from their ideals. Instead of relying on prudence and planning to plot out their future, many students began to embrace the notion of wild speculation, dreaming of adventures far from the college world and fortunes to be made overnight. College families had always identified the wider nation and its “erroneous” notions of virtue as a threat to their moral and intellectual order. This new worldly invasion...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 203-222)
    (pp. 223-244)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 245-256)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-260)